CTE cyber students get ahead playing computer games

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Seth Francois, right, and Gavin Mackey work to protect a virtual network as teaching assistant Ben Kangas looks on and advises them.

HOUGHTON — Students in the cybersecurity course run through the Career and Technical Education center have been learning about computers, networks and how to protect them since the beginning of the year.

The inaugural class meets at Michigan Technological University (MTU) and was developed with Guy Hembroff, MTU associate professor and director of the medical informatics master’s program.

“Being able to protect systems, networks and devices is paramount,” Hembroff said.

On Thursday, instructor Aric Asti split the class into teams to test each other’s skills in a lab mimicking an exercise testing a small business network.

“It’s called red teaming and blue teaming,” Asti said.

The blue team sets up a network with defenses and monitors it for unexpected, unwanted activity and other “indicators of compromise.”

The red team tests the blue team’s defenses for vulnerabilities with a variety of tactics and tools that the students have been taught to use.

“There’s security companies that get paid to infiltrate other companies,” Asti said.

The lab is the end result of several days of learning about network security in lectures and hands-on activities and will take place over multiple days. Every day the students meet for about 90 minutes for a lecture followed by a related hands-on activity. They get assigned homework done online.

Asti, who has worked on computer networks for companies in the Virgin Islands, for the Army, and for an East-Coast startup company, models much of the students lessons on what he thinks will be most useful to them in the workplace.

“Essentially, they’re building an enterprise or business grade system from scratch,” he said.

Gavin Mackey, a junior at Hancock High School, has played around with computers and basic programming before. Now he is hoping he can leverage what he is learning to get a job working with computer technology.

“I feel like this program is giving students a better chance,” he said.

Seth Francois, a senior at Houghton High School and Mackey’s teammate on the blue team, said he has been interested in computers for a while and has been trying to learn Python, a programming language, at home.

“This class has really set up a strong base for me to work from,” Francois said.

But getting a job today is not just about having the technical skills. Asti is also teaching his students how to communicate what they have been doing in non-technical and explanatory formats.

During Thursday’s exercise, students documented the tools they used and the actions they took using screenshots and notes. They will be compiling these notes into one-page executive summaries of what happened during the exercise.

Next semester they will be working on other “soft skills” like public speaking and project management, as well as attending an innovation and entrepreneur workshop being planned for spring.

Charles Warren, an MTU sophomore working as a teaching assistant in the class, said in some ways the high school students are ahead of students like him.

“We don’t take cybersecurity until our third year at Tech,” he said.